Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Strong and Safe Communities Initiative

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp launched her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative in September 2014 to help address some of the emerging challenges facing the state by bringing a greater focus to keeping North Dakota's communities strong and families safe in their homes well into the future. Part of the initiative includes her Strong & Safe Communities Task Force that is comprised of North Dakotans from across the state who have solid understandings of many of the new safety challenges the state faces. 

North Dakota has reaped major rewards from the state’s energy boom. For years, the state has had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, thousands of open jobs, and innovation, research, and development taking place. Even as commodity prices have dropped, such rapid growth has impacted North Dakota, bringing with it new law enforcement, infrastructure, and safety challenges - many of which are now clearer as growth has slowed. Senator Heitkamp has already been working to address these issues, and through her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative she is raising more awareness about them and providing a tangible plan to tackle them moving forward to help build a strong future for North Dakota. 

In August 2016, Senator Heitkamp released her Strong & Safe Communities Report which offers a comprehensive set of proposals to address the emerging challenges facing North Dakota and seek a strong future for the state. The report, entitled "Building a North Dakota for Today and Tomorrow," is a key piece of her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative. It incorporates the many ideas of more than 150 community leaders from across North Dakota who participated in her Strong & Safe Communities Summit in October 2015 as well as feedback from members of her Strong and Safe Communities Task Force. Click here for a copy of Senator Heitkamp's Strong & Safe Communities Report. 

Senator Heitkamp is continuing her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative and using it to address existing and newer challenges facing the state, including opioid abuse and addiction, housing costs, consumer safety, human trafficking, and crime, among other issues.

Senator Heitkamp's Strong and Safe Communities Task Force Issues and Members

Transportation of Crude Oil by Rail
Steve Dirksen, City of Fargo Fire Chief
Bill Fahlsing, Stark County Director of Emergency Services
Jim Moe, Fire Chief, Devils Lake 

Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence
Christina Sambor, coordinator at FUSE (Force to End Human Sexual Exploitation)
Anna Frissell, Executive Director of the Red River Valley Children's Advocacy Center
Darianne Johnson, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson
Erin Prochnow, Executive Director of YWCA Cass Clay
Janelle Moos, Executive Director of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services

Crime and Drug Crime
Mark Nelson, Grand Forks Police Chief
Art Walgren, Watford City Police Chief

Indian Country Challenges
Diane Johnson, Chief Judge at MHA Nation
Cynthia Lindquist, President of Cankdeska Cikana Community College
Vincent Gillette, Director of Social Services, Sioux County
Donovan Foughty, District Judge, Devils Lake
Sadie Young Bird, Executive Director, Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence
Casey Fredericks, Owner, Charging Eagle, Inc.
Linda Thomas, Executive Director, First Nations Women's Alliance 

Economic Development and Community Impact
Gene Veeder, McKenzie County's Economic Development Director
Dawn Keeley, Executive Director of the Red River Regional Council
Brad Gibbens, Deputy Director and Assistant Professor, Center for Rural Health, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Sherry Adams, Executive Officer of Southwestern District Health Unit
Vawnita Best, Commissioner, McKenzie County
Nick Archuleta, President, North Dakota United
Dan Mahli, Community Development Administrator, City of Fargo
Jessica Thomasson, CEO, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota
Kurt Snyder, Executive Director, Heartview


Senator Heitkamp's Work to Keep North Dakota's Communities Strong and Safe

Senator Heitkamp has taken a comprehensive approach to address the new challenges North Dakota faces as the state experiences rapid population growth and development. Below are some of the actions Heitkamp has taken to keep North Dakota's communities strong and safe: 

Transportation of Crude Oil by Rail
Since the train derailment in Casselton, North Dakota in December 2013, Senator Heitkamp has pushed for improvements to rail safety to protect North Dakota's communities. Largely due to the energy boom in North Dakota and the then heavy reliance on rail as a mode of transportation, as of mid-2014, the number of railcars carrying crude oil grew by more than 4,000 percent between 208 and 2013. To improve safety for North Dakota's communities, Senator Heitkamp introduced her RESPONSE Act to make sure first responders have the training and resources they need to handle potential hazardous incidents, such as derailments of trains carrying crude oil. Her bill was signed into law in 2016. She helped secure federal funds for a one-of-a-kind rail safety training facility in Colorado which many North Dakota first responders have visited for training sessions. She also brought the fire chief from Casselton to Washington, D.C. where he testified at a hearing that Senator Heitkamp chaired in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security to discuss his team's experience responding to the Casselton derailment. Senator Heitkamp also brought the then-second in command at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to North Dakota to meet with volunteer firefighters about finding solutions training and recruitment issues related to volunteer firefighters, which make up 96 percent of the state's first responders. Senator Heitkamp also pressed federal agencies to release updated rules to help prevent future derailments, many of which were recently finalized. 

Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence
Since the fall of 2013, Senator Heitkamp has been a leader in Congress working to combat human trafficking - a growing problem in North Dakota - by holding Senate hearings, introducing legislation, setting up training sessions for North Dakotans on identifying human trafficking, and coordinating with lead advocacy organizations to raise awareness about this problem. Her bill to crack down on website like Backpage that knowingly facilitate human trafficking became law in 2018. She played a key role in passing bipartisan legislation through Congress which included her safe harbor bill with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar to make sure human trafficking victims who are minors aren't treated as criminals. She is continuing to push for bipartisan legislation to prevent runaway and homeless youth from getting caught in human trafficking rings. Senator Heitkamp also introduced a bipartisan bill to give health care providers - including doctors, nurses, and social workers - training to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking. Senator Heitkamp brought Cindy McCain - a national and global leader in the fight against human trafficking - on a three-day tour of western North Dakota to discuss with leaders best practices to help eradicate human trafficking from the state. Senator Heitkamp's efforts to stop human trafficking build on her work as North Dakota's Attorney General to combat domestic violence as she implemented the initial Violence Against Women Act at a state level, and helped pass the reauthorization of the law right when she joined the Senate. In September 2018, Senator Heitkamp's bipartisan bill was signed into law to help further combat domestic abuse and sexual violence by promoting pro-bono legal services for victims of these crimes.

Crime and Drug Crime
Senator Heitkamp has pushed for strong action to help reduce the rise of crime and drug crime in North Dakota, particularly in the oil patch. She brought the then-White House Drug Czar to the state in 2013 during which he pledged to dedicate federal resources to address crime and drug crime in western North Dakota. He followed up with more support for the area – including making Williams County eligible for more federal funds to help rein in drug abuse and crime. Senator Heitkamp then brought the next Drug Czar to North Dakota where he committed to continuing to address the growing drug problems in the state, with a particular focus on stopping drug crime in the Bakken. Bipartisan legislation Senator Heitkamp pushed for to combat transnational drug trafficking - a growing problem in North Dakota - recently passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. Senator Heitkamp also sought to expand access to drug take-back sites to stop the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in North Dakota. She also pushed for the FBI to open a permanent office in Williston which is now taking place. In the past few years, Senator Heitkamp has focused on combating opioid abuse in the state, holding several meetings in communities across North Dakota and introducing legislation to provide more federal resources for communities to combat the epidemic.

Indian Country Challenges
With the tremendous growth throughout North Dakota, many of the state’s Indian reservations -- particularly MHA Nation which sits over part of the oil patch – have faced unique issues and Senator Heitkamp has been working to improve safety on them. She has pushed for a permanent federal law enforcement presence in Indian Country to combat the increase of drugs, crime, and human trafficking - including pressing the head of the FBI on the issue during a recent U.S. Senate hearing, and through multiple conversations with the current and former U.S. Attorney General. These efforts continued her efforts since she was North Dakota's Attorney General. Senator Heitkamp is also focused on the problem of Native American women and children getting caught in human trafficking rings and has sought more resources to help them get out of these terrible situations. In September 2013, she brought witnesses to a U.S. Senate hearing she called for, during which they testified specifically about these problems. In 2017, Senator Heitkamp introduced Savanna's Act to make sure North Dakota’s tribes have the information and resources they need to protect women and girls from violence, abduction, and human trafficking. In April 2018, her bipartisan bill to expand AMBER Alerts, the child abduction warnings, in Indian Country was signed into law. Senator Heitkamp has continued to call for a permanent FBI office in western North Dakota and Indian Country. There is now an FBI office in Williston, which she successfully pushed for, and she continues to press for an office on tribal lands.  

Economic Development and Community Impact
As North Dakota’s population rapidly grows, the state has experienced serious strains on much of its transportation, housing, and infrastructure which Senator Heitkamp is working to address so communities remain strong. She is continuing to push for Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill to help North Dakota build and expand roads and bridges across the state to improve safety and keep up with the increase of traffic on the roads. She has also sought more access to mental health services across the state and helped introduce legislation to address the increase in mental health challenges in North Dakota by bolstering state and local programs. In September 2018, Senator Heitkamp held her Summit to Stop Suicide in North Dakota to prompt a comprehensive discussion with community leaders from across the state about preventing suicide among all populations. She has also fought to expand water systems to provide clean water and pushed for more affordable housing to help alleviate the state's housing crisis. 

Border Security
As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Senator Heitkamp is working to improve conditions and security at the Northern Border as border crossings have been impacted by the state's population boom. North Dakota has 17 border crossings, many of which are in small and rural areas. In 2015, Senator Heitkamp brought the then-number two in command at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to North Dakota's Northern Border to see firsthand the challenges border security personnel there face and discuss ways to improve the safety of North Dakota communities. She introduced a bipartisan bill, which became law in 2016, to make sure the federal government correctly assesses threats along the Northern Border. In June 2018, DHS released its new Northern Border Strategy, a plan prompted by Senator Heitkamp's bill. Senator Heitkamp also helped the then-White House Drug Czar announce his new national strategy to fight drug crime in the Bakken and at the National Border which she specifically pushed for. And she held discussions with law enforcement in Grand Forks and Minot about challenges at the border. 

21st Century Security Challenges
Senator Heitkamp is also working to address increases in online security threats that the state's growing number of families and businesses face. Cyber-attacks have already impacted businesses and universities in the state, and Senator Heitkamp wants to make sure the increasing number of businesses, individuals, and families who do much of their work online are effectively protected from cyber threats. As more North Dakotans have come to rely on the internet for daily tasks, the need for increased connectivity and speeds are also evident. At least 37 percent of North Dakota’s rural communities lack access to high-speed internet. For folks living on North Dakota’s tribal lands, that lack of access has historically been a significant setback. As a member of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator Heitkamp has pressed top federal agency officials about the need to improve access to high-speed internet, particularly in Indian Country.